Marina Cvetkovic: Facilitating the Transformation of Executive and Leadership to Their New Heights
For Marina Cvetkovic, 2023 is shaping up to be a watershed year. This 37-year-old award-winning executive coach, board adviser, entrepreneur, and philanthropist has definitely never lacked for them in her life of incalculable significance, but it may be that she has come full circle.
Marina’s most recent chapter started a year ago, when she became Co-CEO of Heimann Cvetkovic & Partners, a boutique executive advising business that brings together the world’s foremost specialists in leadership partnerships. In this year, Marina began her career as a portfolio manager, and she also took on the post of Chief Commercial Officer at The NextGen Project.
Corporate Career of the Leader
Marina: “I have spent my entire career advising senior leaders, management teams, and boards, and I have also held positions of senior leadership.” Indeed, Marina’s career has been shaped by her time spent in senior leadership roles. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Strategy and Chief of Staff to the CEO at Swiss Re, the largest reinsurance company in the world, where she worked to foster a culture of agility and innovation among the company’s 4,000 employees. She has served as a top executive at many other prominent European and American management consulting and executive search firms.
Marina recognized this during her time as the Chief Executive Officer of a prestigious international company; she is most effective when discussing issues of leadership and business strategy. “In my experience, the most prevalent roadblock to swiftly moving the business agenda is seldom found in the areas we look at first—improved strategy, a more well-thought-out project plan, or increased productivity. Instead, it’s all about making the alignment stronger.
The Beginnings and Realization of One’s Destiny
Marina had a tough childhood since she was born in Belgrade, Serbia. Her daily life was marked by tumult at home, at the workplace, and in the community at large, including the NATO bombardment of Belgrade, her birthplace. I’ve seen a lot of kids, even some of the most driven and accomplished ones, progressively lose up on their dreams. “To be completely frank, it was an environment that killed any semblance of hope,” Marina adds. Despite the hardships she had as a child, they helped shape who she is now. “My blessing was that my father was a successful executive and entrepreneur.” From an early age on, he would tell Marina tales of his latest business struggles and triumphs, bringing the possibility of one’s most audacious goals being attained closer to Marina’s little heart. Says her, “By the time I was 20, I felt like I could conquer the world!” Marina is laughing.
She told us that the unwavering confidence in herself and the willingness to keep learning and evolving are the two traits most responsible for her continued success to this day. Marina was honored with the FiNext Award 2019 for her work in the financial services sector, and only a few months later, she was named one of sector Wire’s 10 Best Leaders 2020 internationally.
Marina, in all honesty, is a student for life. Marina exclaims, “I cannot count the number of leadership books I’ve read! Nor the number of coaches I’ve hired in the never-ending pursuit of a better version of myself.” So started a new chapter in Marina’s life. Executive legacy exercises helped her recognize that her life’s work would be most fulfilling if it had a profound and formative effect on the lives of other C-suite executives and their management teams. Shortly afterwards, Marina opted to forego a high-powered corporate career in favor of working as a board adviser and executive coach.
The rest is history: Marina has joined the ranks of such notable leaders and mentors as Dr. Jim Kim, Alan Mulally, and others in the MG100. She is a pioneer in the field of emotional intelligence and a trained coach-supervisor via the EQ Coaching Certification program created by Professor Daniel Goleman. UBS, American Express, Insurance Thought Leadership, the International Insurance Conference, Forbes, and others have all published or mentioned her work. She is in high demand as a keynote speaker, particularly on issues of leadership and the boardroom.
Marina is happy because she has found her life’s purpose and is actively pursuing it. When you work in this field, you can’t help but notice that few people have a clear sense of their life’s purpose. And then, only a tiny fraction of us really make the effort to go through the turmoil of change and grief that is inherent in living life.
Today, Heimann Cvetkovic & Partners is committed to helping senior executives and management teams realize their vision by fostering genuine leadership and genuine relationships at all levels of the organization. They help C-suite executives and their management teams define their collective and individual goals, then settle on the best strategies for achieving those goals via collaboration. Executive coaching on issues like executive transition, genuine leadership, and executive positioning are just some of the ways that Marina and her company partner and Co-CEO, Nicole Heimann, help executives who are setting out on this path.
Concept of Leadership Alliances
The same is true for leadership groups as it is for individual leaders: “Of course, it is not only individual leaders who need to discover their personal mission and purpose.” Whatever their level of awareness,” Marina continues. The success of any management team hinges on the members’ ability to work in unison toward a common goal. We then guide boards and executive staff on a journey to establish and agree upon HOW they wish to collaborate. The road to genuine collaboration between top-level executives. Marina talks about it with fervor.
Alan Mullaly, the former president of Ford Motors, and many other C-suite executives throughout the world have backed the Leadership Alliance Culture’s trademark notion of accelerating performance and alignment in top teams. The all-encompassing nature of our idea is what sets it apart. Neither the vision nor the team’s standards nor its culture are our exclusive concern. To assist a management team go from where they are to where they want to be, we take a comprehensive look at all of these elements and serve as “sparring partners” along the way, as Marina puts it.
We’ve seen that, in addition to her executive coaching and team-journey work with top-level executives, Marina also often gives talks as a keynote speaker. Marina affirms, “That is right.” We tailor our approach to each individual management group since we understand that no two teams are the same. “That’s the only way to get them where they want to go,” Marina says with a grin. Marina notes that although “not every team is ready for an intervention or a team coaching journey,” some may be interested in hearing about “the best practices we have observed in other boards and management teams.” It has been said that “keynotes open the door to transformation” since they raise people’s consciousness. For Marina, keynotes are frequently the first step in developing a strategic collaboration with a customer over the long term.
We know that “there is no sustainable team progress without deep individual accountability of each leader,” and this is a major reason why we are able to help our customers succeed. That’s why Heimann Cvetkovic & Partners never stops coaching both the best teams and their top executives simultaneously. Executive coaching, we’ve found, “is a multiplier of any top team coaching work,” in that it enables leaders to overcome personal barriers and begin contributing to and leading their teams more effectively. Marina and her spouse Nicole are motivated to conduct this job in part because of the rippling impact they hope it will have. The impact of “helping each executive, or management team/board become even only 10% better” would be felt across the whole company.
The Boardroom of Tomorrow
Marina thinks that the culture of any given business is set from the top and, as such, deserves the utmost strategic consideration. Even if a company’s top executives or board members have all achieved great success individually, it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll work well together. No matter how competent the individuals who compose a team may be as leaders, a high-performing team does not arise spontaneously.
According to what Marina has told us, the function of the board has evolved greatly over the previous decade, and much more so over the past year. Boards are being urged and challenged to go beyond their traditional role of only providing governance and monitoring and become a valuable strategic asset to their respective firms. This raises the question, “How can boards of directors and executive teams best collaborate in the future to meet and overcome emerging business challenges?” Marina explains. As one of my clients put it, “most leadership teams and boards I work with would agree with the vision of creating a true partnership, however, almost all of them struggle with how to do that.” Heimann Cvetkovic & Partners’ primary mission is to assist boards and management teams in developing effective leadership coalitions around the world. A real leadership coalition provides a solid foundation from which to attack all of the business difficulties, as Marina puts it.
Marina serves on the boards of BoardStrong and Rutgers University as well as other organizations that share her values and vision. For instance, the non-profit placement organization BoardStrong was established in the 1960s as a service initiative of the Harvard Business School Club of New York. They used to solely match boards, but now they also provide services like board training and sustainable board practices to assist businesses strengthen their boards and increase their effectiveness as a governing body.
Boardroom Diversity: More Than Just a Number
The need for more diversity at the highest levels of an organization is true, since culture tends to filter down from the top. And I am not referring about diversity in terms of race or gender alone. We need different perspectives, but it’s hard to quantify it directly, so we utilize proxies instead. Marina, in her role as executive counselor and coach, has seen a significant generational gap in the boardroom. “I find it fascinating that while everyone is talking about gender diversity at top levels, generational diversity is still not quite in the forefront – although we live in a world in which the average age in the boardroom is still 64+,” says Marina. “At times when the pace of change in the market is unprecedented and when disruption is the only constant,” the author writes, “I believe that traditional “legacy” expertise is losing importance while the relevance of “fresh” and different thinking that new generations are bringing is increasing.” From this realization came the inspiration for a movement to promote greater intergenerational communication and cooperation among board members.
Marina is now the Chief Commercial Officer of The NextGen Project, a group that facilitates intergenerational discourse at the highest levels of business and government by featuring the perspectives of exceptional young professionals from a wide range of fields and regions. “We foster this dialogue in two ways,” adds Marina. “One is by developing the next generation to become future executive advisors and board members through our nextgen leadership development programs,” which will give them a “louder and more powerful voice” in the conversation. However, we are also ensuring that CEOs encourage the next generation to speak out and be heard by having them participate in organized, focused discourse via nextgen advisory meetings. One hundred and more chief executive officers, boards of directors, and executive teams have been motivated to innovate, question the status quo, and steer their companies towards a more sustainable future thanks to The NextGen Project.
To prepare for her 2019 TEDx presentation, Marina was questioned about the things that she just cannot sacrifice: quality time with loved ones. Success is merely the top of the iceberg,” she says, and I’m happy you asked. A lot of effort has gone into this in the background. She pulled out her notebook and gave us a few instances of her weekly calendar that left us reeling; most days for Marina begin at 5 a.m. Family and friends are increasingly vital to my sanity the busy I become. My wonderful hubby is the true wind under my wings; without him, I would not be where I am today. My pet dog Joaquin, of course! The easiest way to relieve tension is to play with him! Marina exclaims, beaming with happiness. Marina and her husband Daniel have a magnificent property on the Zurich coast, and they often host friends and family from New York City and beyond.